Lay and Expert Testimony When Deciding Damages

Submitted by New Jersey Personal Injury Attorney, Jeffrey Hark

This blog discusses Ghee v. Marten Transport Ltd., decided by the United States Court of Appeals for The Third Circuit and filed on June 25, 2014. It was an appeal of the denial of a motion seeking either a new trial or a remittitur. A remittitur is a “cure” for a court award of damages that is grossly excessive and is used instead of ordering a new trial.

Personal Injury and Loss of Income

It should be noted that the opinion of this case is not precedential but it is a good review of some legal concepts. The basic facts of the case are that the plaintiff-appellee, Ghee, and defendant-appellant, Marten Transport and their driver, were both driving tractor-trailers when they crashed into each other. Both parties conceded liability, meaning it was not an issue on this appeal, but it can be assumed that the defendant accepted fault. Ghee presented expert testimony from two doctors regarding his injuries, and the defendants did not refute their opinions. Ghee also testified himself that due to his injuries he would never be able to drive a truck again and his chances of getting other employment would be slim due to his not being good with computers. Ghee also used an economist as an export to testify as to his expected future income loss based on the premise that he could not work again. After hearing the testimony the jury awarded $875, 896.21.

Evidentiary Findings in Person Injury Appeals

When the United States Court of Appeals hears a case they are highly deferential to evidentiary findings of a U.S. District Court. Hear the defendant-appellants argue that the District Court made the following mistakes:

  1. they allowed Ghee to testify about not being able to drive a truck again
  2. they allowed Ghee to testify that he could not find other work
  3. they accepted the economist’s testimony as an expert based on the presumption that Ghee could not work again due to his injuries
  4. damages awarded were excessive

The defendant-appellants contend the first three errors should grant them a new trial. However there was no problem with allowing Ghee to testify about not being able to drive again because laymen testimony is acceptable if there is a connection between his opinion and actual knowledge and so long as it is helpful to the jury. There may have been a possible objection to number two, but the defendants waived any argument against that testimony by failing to raise it during trial or in a post-trial motion. Lastly the evidence presented supported the findings of the economist. As for number four and remittitur, damages must be constitutionally excessive or against the weight of the evidence in order for relief to be granted.

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Criminal Civil Lawyer

Jeffrey Hark is a New Jersey Civil and Criminal Lawyer.

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